REVIEW: Super Dark Times
– By Stephen Harper
You’d be forgiven if you were attracted to Super Dark Times due to its atmospheric, retro-layered poster and throwing up similarities to the whole Stranger Things fanfare with its youth led narrative and its nostalgic ingredients, but although the film is excellent in capturing details from its period, that’s where the similarities end.
Set in 1996 against the stunning backdrop of upstate New York, we follow lifelong friends Zack (Owen Campbell) and Josh (Charlie Tahan) as they linger between youthful exuberance and adulthood. They spend their days riding their bikes, dodging bullies and nattering about girls. Initially nothing is out of the ordinary, they’re just like every other teenage boy, and during the mid-90’s, before internet and mobile phones took their grip there was more flowing communication. Kids would endlessly ride their bikes debating useless pop culture, etc, and there was clearly an innocence about growing up that seems to be getting more and more lost in the society of today.
The two meet up with two other boys, Daryl (Max Talisman) and his friend Charlie (Sawyer Barth). Daryl is universally disliked and although the details aren’t confirmed he is clearly on the spectrum. His behaviour is impulsive and overpowering, but for some reason these boys just about tolerate him when nobody else does.
Once again all the boys get up to minor mischief, but it’s extremely mild by today’s standards. They visit Josh’s house and take a look around his older brother’s bedroom, who’s away serving in the Marines. The boys are fascinated by the semi-naked pictures of girls on the walls and his array of weapons such as nunchucks and a katana sword. They play around until Daryl spoils the fun by finding a bag of cannabis on Josh’s brother’s bedside cabinet. Daryl pesters Josh to let him have it, but Josh understandably is reluctant to hand over his brother’s possessions. As the the boys take the fun outside into a nearby woodland, hacking milk cartons in half with the katana, Daryl suddenly lights up the cannabis he’s stolen from Josh’s house. All the boys confront Daryl whose behaviour now becomes agitated, impulsive and violent. He starts swinging the sword around towards the boys, in particular Josh, which results in the two brawling. As the fight goes to ground Daryl accidentally is stabbed in the neck. Obviously panic, fear and shock take over all the boys, including Daryl who tries to run for help through the woodland before collapsing beneath the trees. In a split second the boys decide collectively to hide the body, all traces of his possessions and try to return to their lives like it never happened.
Although this story isn’t anything new, what does take place after the death of Daryl is a refreshing take. Unlike previous similar tales such as Mean Creek, what Super Dark Times does excellently is delve into a second narrative that is rarely explored. The setting takes place pre-Columbine, so it really digs into the psychological aspects of its main characters, their already traumatic experiences, lack of male role models in the story, paranoia and triggering episodes that can result in even more madness. I don’t want to go into too much detail about its third act, but it’s as harrowing as it is upsetting.
Interwoven in the story is the focus of Alison (Elizabeth Cappuccino) and how pivotal she is to the two boys’ relationship without her even knowing. Her low-key performance brilliantly making the scenes even more sad.
The two main leads are wonderful – they don’t overplay and their authenticity excels. As does the cinematography which captures every mood beautifully during each moment, casting light and dark to magnificent effect.
Director Kevin Phillips shows huge promise here as he weaves a simplistic coming of age story with a gruesome climax into a movie that truly makes you think after the credits roll. A movie that makes you do that is job done in my book.